The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has signed a letter of intent with Canadian land-based salmon farming operation Sustainable Blue to explore the development of land-based aquaculture in the state.

The move follows a tumultuous period during which Hilary Franz, who heads DNR, canceled two leases for netpen salmon farms operated by Cooke in Washington state waters. These were the last two netpen sites still operating in the state.

She followed this by ordering in November a complete ban on all netpen salmon farming in the state.

The State of Washington has been increasingly limiting Cooke's ability to operate netpens following the August 2017 collapse of a netpen at the company's Cypress Island fish farm.

The collapse led to the escape of hundreds of thousands of farmed non-native Atlantic salmon. Cooke was fined $332,000 (€321,000) for the incident.

Nova Scotia-based Sustainable Blue, which established a pilot recirculation aquaculture system (RAS) facility in 2010 in Centre Burlington, now produces around 1,000 metric tons of salmon annually.

The new letter of intent with Sustainable Blue could leverage land and water managed by DNR for potential siting of new land-based facilities.

The letter of intent defines alternative aquaculture operations as those that "do not discharge to an aquatic environment, do not employ in-water structure to raise finfish for commercial sale, and practices which emphasize sustainability, waste-minimization and environmental health and safety."

Under the deal, DNR will provide potential site options to Sustainable Blue for its evaluation. The company will ultimately recommend up to three potential sites along with estimated costs and financing options.

If DNR finds any of these options suitable, it would enter into a contract with Sustainable Blue for a land lease, paving the way for development of a land-based site.

In January, Norwegian land-based farmer Salmon Evolution approached Washington State's Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe about a new land-based site as part of its plans to expand into North America in the next few years.

Ron Allen, CEO and chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, confirmed with IntraFish the company has approached him about the project as part of an "exploratory consideration."

Allen said he is interested in working with Salmon Evolution because they already have a project in Norway that he described as "quite successful."

It is unclear what impact DNR's recent deal with Sustainable Blue has on this effort.

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